The Negative Impact of Fear in the Novel Cry the Beloved Country

Cry the Beloved Country is a well- written novel that shows the social problems in South Africa, leading up to the formation of Apartheid, the segregation policy of the nation. The novel has many different themes, but fear is the most profound because it affects both the black and white races of the country. Fear shows no racism. In the novel, Paton analyzes how fear is destroying the very soul of the country. Paton takes us on a journey with the Rev.

Stephen Kumalo, as he scours the city of Johannesburg in search of his son. His journey teaches him the fears that both the native black people, and the intruding white people feel about life in South Africa.

Beginning with the first two paragraphs, Paton describes in detail the beautiful countryside that surrounds Kumalo’s village of Ndotsheni. Through the use of imagery, Paton allows the reader to see the beauty of the landscape. In paragraph three, Paton contrasts the image of the beautiful and lush landscape, with the ravaged and dying valley below.

“The great red hills stand desolate, and the earth has been torn away like flesh.” (page 34) The use of this passage represents how fear and racism have torn away the very soul of South Africa. It also gives the reader a sense of apprehension that the land and the people of South Africa have much to fear during this dangerous time in history.

Additionally, the novel follows the journey of the protagonist, Steven Kumalo, as he searches for his sister and his son, in the city of Johannesburg.

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The novel begins with a little girl bringing Kumalo a letter. This is the first example of fear, as Kumalo and his wife struggle with the decision of whether or not to open the letter. “He turned the letter over, but there was nothing to show from whom it came. He was reluctant to open it, for once such a thing is opened, it cannot be shut again.” (page 36) Kumalo fears opening the letter because it could be unwelcome news about his sister or his son. His fears are justified because the letter is from, Theophilus Msimangu, describing Kumalo’s sister and how ill she is. Kumalo decides he must go to the city to get his sister and bring her home. He knows that once he is there, he will search for his son and bring him home also.

 Fears of the people of South Africa

Continuing on, as we follow Kumalo on his journey, we are introduced to the different fears the people of South Africa are facing. The first fear the native blacks face is the fear of the destruction of their native homelands. The white people have taken the most fertile farmlands from the blacks, forcing them to leave their villages and move to the city. In the cities, the white people depend on the labor of the blacks to keep their business going, even though they pay them poorly. Because they are forced to leave their villages, the blacks also leave behind their traditional cultures and social structures. Examples of this include customs, observing laws, and respecting their elders. Being forced to work for low wages, and having to tolerate crowded, poor, and cramped living conditions, caused an increase in crime among the black people. Paton points out that it is an injustice that the gold industry makes the whites powerful and rich, while the blacks stay oppressed and poor. Kumalo fears for the native people who are forced to live in a land that is no longer suitable for them. A land where their tribal system has been destroyed and replaced with nothing but despair. He is affected by this because his sister has turned to prostitution, and his son to robbery, in order to survive.

.As a result, the white people of South Africa also have fears. “Have no doubt, it is fear in the land. For what can men do when so many have grown lawless?” (page 106) The white people fear the violence and crimes committed by the black people, due to the injustices and segregation they themselves forced upon them. They fear the uprising of the majority race and the worsening violence that can be brought about if the situation does not improve. These fears cause the white people to keep oppressing the blacks. They fear the political, economic, and social changes that giving the blacks equality could bring about. “A better paid labour will not only buy more, but will also read more, think more, ask more, and not be content to be forever voiceless and inferior”. (page 110). Because the whites insist on keeping the blacks “voiceless and inferior’, they will live with the fears they have because of it. The longer it goes on, the angrier the blacks are becoming. Kumalo understands how desperate things have become for the native people, when he learns his son has committed murder while robbing a house of a white man. Because the white people have oppressed the blacks so much, they need to resort to crime to survive.

White man’s laws

For this reason, the blacks fear the white man’s laws, which give them no justice. When Absalom is sentenced in chapter 28, the judge knows the sentence of guilty is not right, but due to the laws he has no choice but to hand it down. “If the law is the law of a society that some feel to be unjust, it is the law and the society that must be changed. In the meantime, there is an existing law that must be administered, and it is the sacred duty of a judge to administer it. And the fact that he is left free to administer it must be counted as righteousness in a society that may in other respects not be righteous.” (page234) The judge is saying that even though he knows it is the unjust society that caused the violence and crime that was committed, he has no choice but to sentence Absalom to death because it is the law.


In conclusion, fear is felt by both races in South Africa during pre-apartheid. Fear shows no racism, as it affects all. The passage on page 111, could apply to both the whites and the blacks of South Africa. “Cry the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.” (page 111) The message that Paton seems to be trying to convey in the novel is that until the country can unite, and equality, dignity, and fairness are given to all, the fear that is destroying the country will not end. The destruction and hatred will eventually destroy them all.

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The Negative Impact of Fear in the Novel Cry the Beloved Country. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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